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Courtesy McClanahan family

Christina Veola McClanahan, 83, died in Bakersfield Friday.

Christina Veola Williams-McClanahan, a retired hair stylist who devoted her life to various religious and children's causes, died at home in her sleep Friday.

She was 83 years old.

McClanahan was a lifelong member of Cain Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, where over the span of 70 years she taught Sunday school, served as school superintendent, headed the youth department, was a missionary board member and was a delegate to the church's annual convention.

She also was a Democratic Party activist, a Parent-Teacher Association president and chairwoman, and at various times involved in scouting, Bluebirds and Campfire Girls.

In addition to raising their three biological children, McClanahan and her late husband, Melton McClanahan Sr., took in about seven foster children over the years, as well as several developmentally disabled adults and a German foreign exchange student.

"My wife sometimes grumbles about having to feed half the neighborhood with all the children at our house all the time, but that's how I grew up," said McClanahan's youngest son, Melton McClanahan Jr.. "If there were children anywhere who needed a safe place to play, my mother provided it."

All of the McClanahan children recalled their mother as a staunch Christian who never missed church and was a strict but loving disciplinarian.

That was a remnant of their black mother's childhood under harsh segregation, said daughter Teri McClanahan.

"Blacks were judged by a different standard, so there was no getting into trouble at home or in public. We had to tow the line," her daughter said.

She added that her mother didn't allow the racism of her day to hold her back. Rather, it motivated her to push hard for all black children to have access to a good education, which she viewed as critical to success.

Among other things, she ran several times for the Kern High School District Board of Trustees, but was not elected.

McClanahan was 8 years old when she left Boley, Okla., for California with her parents and seven siblings in a 1929 Chevy, she told The Californian in a 2003 interview.

"The Dust Bowl and the boll weevils were working on us and our mother decided that we needed to move on," she said.

Her father, Arthur Williams, became a farmer in Buttonwillow, first renting land and later growing cotton, rice, vegetables and fruit on more than 100 acres of his own property.

McClanahan's parents were initially resistant to her pursuing higher education, worried that she'd get pregnant if she lived unsupervised on a college campus.

Eventually they offered her a deal that if she picked a certain amount of cotton, she could quit the family farm. She picked almost 300 pounds of cotton in a single day, then announced she was not going to be a cotton-picker the rest of her life and went on to earn an associate's degree from Bakersfield College.

Later she went to beauty school in Los Angeles because Kern County's beauty schools wouldn't admit blacks, but moved to Bakersfield after finishing and worked as a stylist here for a few years before opening her own salon.

"She taught us hard work," said eldest son Brent McClanahan, a former player for the National Football League who now teaches at South High School. "She was doing hair every morning from 5 a.m. to 6 or 7 in the evening."

McClanahan is survived by son Brent McClanahan and his wife, Diane Monteilh McClanahan of Bakersfield; daughter Teri McClanahan of Santa Rosa; son Melton McClanahan Jr. and his wife, Keely Pullen McClanahan, of Fairfield; three brothers, one sister; nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Two great-great-grandchildren are on the way.

Services are 10 a.m. Saturday at Cain A.M.E., 620 California Ave.